Loneliness is the poverty of self, solitude is the richness of self.
When I was 18 and 19, in the summer I lived and worked in London, and I remember discovering how wonderful it could be to have time on your own: I truly understood the difference between "loneliness" and "solitude".
The short story (or novella ) The Izu Dancer, which I read this week, reminded me of that feeling. Though the story is set in pre-war Japan and mirrors the sensibility of that time and that place, it carries important universal values such as a person's journey to self-awareness, the painful line between childhood and adolescence, between pure love and sexual desire.
The 19-year-old narrator is travelling alone through the Izu Peninsula on a holiday from his school in Tokyo. He is sensitive and introspective. Along the way he encounters a group of migrant dancers, a family plus another woman. The youngest person is a "little girl" who has come to "a dangerous age", as one of the older women suggests, implying that she is suspended between childhood and maturity, almost out of the first, yet not into the other. The narrator is initially attracted to her and she clearly shares his feeling, but he is upset at seeing her naked at a public bath because he realizes that she is still an innocent child. So, if romance is suddenly out of the question, it is exactly her straightforwardness and innocence that make him feel more positively self-aware, less misfit with reality and with his own self.
"He's nice, isn't he," the girl's voice came again.
"He seems to be very nice."
"He really is nice. I like having someone so nice."
She had an open way of speaking a youthful, honest way of sayng
exactly what came to her, that made it possible for me to think of myself as
frankly, "nice." (...) I had come at nineteen to think of myself as a
misanthropist and a lonely misfit and it was my depression at the thought that
had driven me to this lzu tip. And now I was able to look upon myself as
"a nice person" in the everyday sense of the expression. I find no way to
describe what this meant to me. The mountains grew brighter-we were getting
near Shimoda and the sea.
The girl shyly asked me to read her a piece from a storyteller's collection.
I took up the book happily, a certain hope in my mind. Her head was
almost at my shoulder as I started to read, and she looked up at me with a
serious, intent expression, her eyes bright and unblinking. Her large eyes
almost black were easily her best feature. The lines of the heavy lids were
indescribably graceful. And her laugh was like a flower's laugh. A flower's
laugh-the expression does not seem strange
when I think of her.
At the end the narrator and the little dancer part with the promise that they will meet again. Yet we understand, as the narrator seems to realize, that this will never happen; this sweet tender moment in life has passed, leaving a deep change even though the love they feel is impossible.
Reading this story left a melancholic but pleasant feeling of accomplishment, because even if the feelings between the narrator and the Izu dancer were not properly consumed, they nevertheless had a deep impact on them and we can see, from his perspective as he travels back to Tokyo on a ship, how he has changed and grown in his solitary trip through the Izu peninsula...
I floated in a beautiful
Everything sank into an enfolding harmony.
The lights went out, the smell of the sea and of the fish in the hold grew
stronger. In the darkness, warmed by the boy beside me, I gave myself up
to my tears. It was as though my head had turned to clear water, it was
falling pleasantly away drop by drop; soon nothing would remain.